A senior Zimbabwean diplomat said Monday that his government will move quickly in requesting extradition for Eden Prairie big-game hunter Walter Palmer, who faces allegations that he illegally shot a much-loved research lion during a hunt last month.
Richard Chibuwe, deputy chief of mission at Zimbabwe's embassy in Washington, D.C., said his nation's top prosecutor and other officials "are keeping in touch with our authorities to see if we can bring some kind of speed to extradition. We are hoping that things will move with a bit of speed."
The U.S. State Department declined to comment and said it does not discuss extradition requests. A spokesperson said that since Zimbabwe and the United States signed an extradition treaty in 2000, neither nation has extradited anyone to the other.
Reached Monday morning by the Star Tribune, Palmer said "everything is fine," but declined to reveal his location or answer questions.
In a statement last week, Palmer said that he believed the hunt was conducted legally and that he deeply regrets having killed Cecil, a 13-year-old male that was popular with tourists and well-known among wildlife researchers.
Separately, Delta Air Lines announced Monday that it is banning shipment of certain animal trophies, including lions, leopards, elephants, rhinoceroses and buffaloes. Previously, Atlanta-based Delta had accepted hunting trophies as freight if customers provided documentation to U.S. customs officials and if the animal in question was not a protected species.
The ban comes after a petition launched earlier this year called for the airline to stop transporting exotic-animal hunting trophies. The petition on change.org has gained more than 394,000 supporters.
Chris Green, legislative director for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said in his petition that he is a Diamond Medallion frequent flier on Delta and that he started the petition after South African Airways announced a policy refusing to transport exotic-animal trophies. Delta is the only U.S. airline to serve South Africa directly.
Other foreign carriers have joined the ban, and while some imposed tighter restrictions on shipments of hunting trophies, Delta's move "is a massive step forward," Green said.
Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, also issued a statement Monday saying that Delta "has set a great example." He added: "No airline should provide a getaway vehicle" for such activities.
Over the weekend, one of two men implicated with Palmer in Cecil's death said neither he nor Palmer did anything wrong, insisting they did not see the animal's research tracking collar before the kill.
"Both I and the client were extremely devastated that this thing had a collar on," guide Theo Bronkhorst said in an interview with the French news agency Agence France-Presse, "because at no time did we see a collar on this lion before shooting it."
As for having the proper paperwork to conduct the hunt, "We had done everything above board," the guide told the news agency. "Palmer is a totally innocent party to this whole thing, and he has conducted and bought a hunt from me that was legitimate."
Bronkhorst added: "I think it's been blown out of proportion by social media, and I think it's been a deliberate ploy to ban all hunting — and especially lion hunting.''
Palmer, 55, who was forced to suspend his Bloomington dentistry practice, has not disclosed his whereabouts since the controversy erupted. He did contact federal authorities last week after the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service opened its own investigation into the incident and asked for his cooperation.
An avid trophy hunter and bow-and-arrow marksman, Palmer shot and wounded the lion just outside Hwange National Park with a compound bow about July 1 during a guided nighttime hunt.
Authorities in Zimbabwe have described Palmer as an accomplice to an illegal hunt, and prosecutors have said his guide and outfitter lacked the permits to kill a lion legally. They also have suggested that bribery was involved, but they have not specified what charges he might face.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.